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Chapter IX

Leave Mywa — Suspension bridge — Landslips — Vegetation — Slope of riverbed — Bees' nests — Glacial phenomena — Tibetans, clothing, ornaments, amulets, salutation, children, dogs — Last Limboo village, Taptiatok — Beautiful scenery — Tibet village of Lelyp — OpuntiaEdgeworthia — Crab-apple — Chameleon and porcupine — Praying machine — Abies Brunoniana — European plants — Grand scenery — Arrive at Wallanchoon — Scenery around — Trees — Tibet houses — Manis and Mendongs — Tibet household — Food — Tea-soup — Hospitality — Yaks and Zobo, uses and habits of — Bhoteeas — Yak-hair tents — Guobah of Walloong — Jhatamansi — Obstacles to proceeding — Climate and weather — Proceed — Rhododendrons, etc. — Lichens — Poa annua and Shepherd's purse — Tibet camp — Tuquoroma — Scenery of pass — Glaciers and snow — Summit — Plants, woolly, etc.


 

On the 18th November, we left Mywa Guola, and continued up the river to the village of Wallanchoon or Walloong, which was reached in six marches. The snowy peak of Junnoo (alt. 25,312 feet.) forms a magnificent feature from this point, seen up the narrow gorge of the river, bearing N.N.E. about thirty miles. I crossed the Mewa, an affluent from the north, by another excellent suspension bridge. In these bridges, the principal chains are clamped to rocks on either shore, and the suspended loops occur at intervals of eight to ten feet; the single sal-plank laid on these loops swings terrifically, and the handrails not being four feet high, the sense of insecurity is very great.

The Wallanchoon road follows the west bank, but the bridge above having been carried away, we crossed by a


 

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plank, and proceeded along very steep banks of decomposed chlorite schist, much contorted, and very soapy, affording an insecure footing, especially where great landslips had occurred, which were numerous, exposing acres of a reddish and white soil of felspathic clay, sloping at an angle of 30°. Where the angle was less than 15°, rice was cultivated, and partially irrigated. The lateral streams (of a muddy opal green) had cut beds 200 feet deep in the soft earth, and were very troublesome to cross, from the crumbling cliffs on either side, and their broad swampy channels.

Five or six miles above Mywa, the valley contracts much, and the Tambur (whose bed is elevated about 3000 feet) becomes a turbulent river, shooting along its course with immense velocity, torn into foam as it lashes the spurs of rock that flank it, and the enormous boulders with which its bed is strewn.* From this elevation to 9000 feet, its sinuous track extends about thirty miles, which gives the mean fall of 200 feet to the mile, quadruple of what it is for the lower part of its course. So long as its bed is below 5000 feet, a tropical vegetation prevails in the gorge, and along the terraces, consisting of tall bamboo, Bauhinia, Acacia, Melastoma, etc.; but the steep mountain sides above are either bare and grassy, or cliffs with scattered shrubs and trees, and their summits are of splintered slaty gneiss, bristling with pines: those faces exposed to the south and east are invariably the driest and most grassy; while the opposite are well wooded. Rhododendron arboreum becomes plentiful at 5000 to 6000 feet, forming a large tree on dry clayey slopes; it is accompanied by Indigofera, Andromeda,

* In some places torrents of stone were carried down by landslips, obstructing the rivers; when in the beds of streams, they were often cemented by felspathic clay into a hard breccia of angular quartz, gneiss, and felspar nodules.


 

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Spiræa, shrubby Compositæ, and very many plants absent at similar elevations on the wet outer Dorjiling ranges.

In the contracted parts of the valley, the mountains often dip to the river-bed, in precipices of gneiss, under the ledges of which wild bees build pendulous nests, looking like huge bats suspended by their wings; they are two or three feet long, and as broad at the top, whence they taper downwards: the honey is much sought for, except in spring, when it is said to be poisoned by Rhododendron flowers, just as that, eaten by the soldiers in the retreat of the Ten Thousand, was by the flowers of the R. ponticum.

Above these gorges are enormous accumulations of rocks, especially at the confluence of lateral valleys, where they rest upon little flats, like the river-terraces of Mywa, but wholly formed of angular shingle, flanked with beds of river-formed gravel: some of these boulders were thirty or forty yards across, and split as if they had fallen from a height; the path passing between the fragments.* At first I imagined that they had been precipitated from the mountains around; and I referred the shingle to land-shoots, which during the rains descend several thousand feet in devastating avalanches, damming up the rivers, and destroying houses, cattle, and cultivation; but though I still refer the materials of many such terraces to this cause, I consider those at the mouths of valleys to be due to ancient glacial action, especially when laden with such enormous blocks as are probably ice-transported.

A change in the population accompanies that in the natural features of the country, Tibetans replacing the

* The split fragments I was wholly unable to account for, till my attention was directed by Mr. Darwin to the observations of Charpentier and Agassiz, who refer similar ones met with in the Alps, to rocks which have fallen through crevasses in glaciers.—See “Darwin on Glaciers and Transported Boulders in North Wales.” London, “Phil. Mag.” xxi. p. 180.


 

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Limboos and Khass-tribes of Nepal, who inhabit the lower region. We daily passed parties of ten or a dozen Tibetans, on their way to Mywa Guola, laden with salt; several families of these wild, black, and uncouth-looking people generally travelling together. The men are middle-sized, often tall, very square-built and muscular; they have no beard, moustache, or whiskers, the few hairs on their faces being carefully removed with tweezers. They are dressed in loose blanket robes, girt about the waist with a leather belt, in which they place their iron or brass pipes, and from which they suspend their long knives, chopsticks, tobacco-pouch, tweezers, tinder-box, etc. The robe, boots, and cap are grey, or striped with bright colours, and they wear skull-caps, and the hair plaited into a pig-tail.

The women are dressed in long flannel petticoats and spencer, over which is thrown a sleeveless, short, striped cloak, drawn round the waist by a girdle of broad brass or silver links, to which hang their knives, scissors, needlecases, etc., and with which they often strap their children to their backs; the hair is plaited in two tails, and the neck loaded with strings of coral and glass beads, and great lumps of amber, glass, and agate. Both sexes wear silver rings and ear-rings, set with turquoises, and square amulets upon their necks and arms, which are boxes of gold or silver, containing small idols, or the nail-parings, teeth, or other reliques of some sainted Lama, accompanied with musk, written prayers, and other charms. All are good-humoured and amiable-looking people, very square and Mongolian in countenance, with broad mouths, high cheek-bones, narrow, upturned eyes, broad, flat noses, and low foreheads. White is their natural colour, and rosy cheeks are common amongst the younger women and children, but all are begrimed with filth and smoke; added


 

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to which, they become so weather-worn from exposure to the most rigorous climate in the world, that their natural hues are rarely to be recognised. Their customary mode of saluting one another is to hold out the tongue, grin, nod, and scratch their ear; but this method entails so much ridicule in the low countries, that they do not practise it to Nepalese or strangers; most of them when meeting me, on the contrary, raised their hands to their eyes, threw themselves on the ground, and kotowed most decorously, bumping their foreheads three times on the ground; even the women did this on several occasions. On rising, they begged for a bucksheesh, which I gave in tobacco or snuff, of which they are immoderately fond. Both men and women constantly spin wool as they travel.


 
Tibet mastiff

These motley groups of Tibetans are singularly picturesque, from the variety in their parti-coloured dresses, and their odd appearance. First comes a middle-aged man or woman, driving a little silky black yak, grunting under his load of 260 lb. of salt, besides pots, pans, and


 

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kettles, stools, churn, and bamboo vessels, keeping up a constant rattle, and perhaps, buried amongst all, a rosy-cheeked and lipped baby, sucking a lump of cheese-curd. The main body follow in due order, and you are soon entangled amidst sheep and goats, each with its two little bags of salt: beside these, stalks the huge, grave, bull-headed mastiff, loaded like the rest, his glorious bushy tail thrown over his back in a majestic sweep, and a thick collar of scarlet wool round his neck and shoulders, setting off his long silky coat to the best advantage; he is decidedly the noblest-looking of the party, especially if a fine and pure black one, for they are often very ragged, dun-coloured, sorry beasts. He seems rather out of place, neither guarding nor keeping the party together, but he knows that neither yaks, sheep, nor goats, require his attention; all are perfectly tame, so he takes his share of work as salt-carrier by day, and watches by night as well. The children bring up the rear, laughing and chatting together; they, too, have their loads, even to the youngest that can walk alone.

The last village of the Limboos, Taptiatok, is large, and occupies a remarkable amphitheatre, apparently a lake-bed, in the course of the Tambur. After proceeding some way through a narrow gorge, along which the river foamed and roared, the sudden opening out of this broad, oval expanse, more than a mile long, was very striking: the mountains rose bare and steep, the west flank terminating in shivered masses of rock, while that on the right was more undulating, dry, and grassy: the surface was a flat gravel-bed, through which meandered the rippling stream, fringed with alder. It was a beautiful spot, the clear, cool, murmuring river, with its rapids and shallows, forcibly reminding me of trout-streams in the highlands of Scotland.

Beyond Taptiatok we again crossed the river, and


 

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ascended over dry, grassy, or rocky spurs to Lelyp, the first Bhoteea village; it stands on a hill fully 1000 feet above the river, and commands a splendid view up the Yalloong and Kambachen valleys, which open immediately to the east, and appear as stupendous chasms in the mountains leading to the perpetual snows of Kinchin-junga. There were about fifty houses in the village, of wood and thatch, neatly fenced in with wattle, the ground between being carefully cultivated with radishes, buckwheat, wheat, and millet. I was surprised to find in one enclosure a fine healthy plant of Opuntia, in flower, at this latitude and elevation. A Lama, who is the head man of the place, came out to greet us, with his family and a whole troop of villagers; they were the same class of people as I have elsewhere described as Cis-nivean Tibetans, or Bhoteeas; none had ever before seen an Englishman, and I fear they formed no flattering opinion from the specimen now presented to them, as they seemed infinitely amused at my appearance, and one jolly dame clapped her hands to her sides, and laughed at my spectacles, till the hills echoed.

Elæagnus was common here, with Edgeworthia Gardneri,* a beautiful shrub, with globes of waxy, cowslip-coloured, deliciously scented flowers; also a wild apple, which bears a small austere fruit, like the Siberian crab. In the bed of the river rice was still cultivated by Limboos, and subtropical plants continued. I saw, too, a chameleon and a porcupine, indicating much warmth, and seeming quite foreign to the heart of these stupendous mountains. From 6000 to 7000 feet, plants of the temperate regions blend with the tropical; such as rhododendron, oak, ivy,

* A plant allied to Daphne, from whose bark the Nepal paper is manufactured. It was named after the eminent Indian botanist, brother of the late Miss Edgeworth.


 

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geranium, berberry, clematis, and shrubby Vaccinia, which all made their appearance at Loongtoong, another Bhoteea village. Here, too, I first saw a praying machine, turned by water; it was enclosed in a little wooden house, and consisted of an upright cylinder containing a prayer, and with the words, “Om mani padmi om,” (Hail to him of the Lotus and Jewel) painted on the circumference: it was placed over a stream, and made to rotate on its axis by a spindle which passed through the floor of the building into the water, and was terminated by a wheel.

Above this the road followed the west bank of the river; the latter was a furious torrent, flowing through a gorge, fringed with a sombre vegetation, damp, and dripping with moisture, and covered with long Usnea and pendulous mosses. The road was very rocky and difficult, sometimes leading along bluff faces of cliffs by wooden steps and single rotten planks. At 8000 feet I met with pines, whose trunks I had seen strewing the river for some miles lower down: the first that occurred was Abies Brunoniana, a beautiful species, which forms a stately blunt pyramid, with branches spreading like the cedar, but not so stiff, and drooping gracefully on all sides. It is unknown on the outer ranges of Sikkim, and in the interior occupies a belt about 1000 feet lower than the silver fir (A. Webbiana). Many sub-alpine plants occur here, as Lecesteria, Thalictrum, rose, thistles, alder, birch, ferns, bcrberry, holly, anemone, strawberry, raspberry, Gnaphalium, the alpine bamboo, and oaks. The scenery is as grand as any pictured by Salvator Rosa; a river roaring in sheets of foam, sombre woods, crags of gneiss, and tier upon tier of lofty mountains flanked and crested with groves of black firs, terminating in snow-sprinkled rocky peaks.

I now found the temperature getting rapidly cooler,


 

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Tambur River at the lower limit of pines

 

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both that of the air, which here at 8,066 feet fell to 32° in the night, and that of the river, which was always below 40°. It was in these narrow valleys only, that I observed the return cold current rushing down the river-courses during the nights, which were usually brilliant and very cold, with copious dew: so powerful, indeed, was the radiation, that the upper blanket of my bed became coated with moisture, from the rapid abstraction of heat by the frozen tarpaulin of my tent.

The rivers here are often fringed by flats of shingle, on which grow magnificent yews and pines; some of the latter were from 120 to 150 feet high, and had been blown down, owing to their scanty hold on the soil. I measured one, Abies Brunoniana, twenty feet in girth. Many alpine rhododendrons occur at 9000 feet, with Astragalis and creeping Tamarisk. Three miles below Wallanchoon the river forks, being met by the Yangma from the north-east; they are impetuous torrents of about equal volume; the Tambur especially (here called the Walloong) is often broken into cascades, and cuts a deep gorge-like channel.

I arrived at the village of Wallanchoon on the 23rd of November. It is elevated 10,385 feet, and situated in a fine open part of the Tambur valley, differing from any part lower down in all its natural features; being broad, with a rapid but not turbulent stream, very grassy, and both the base and sides of the flanking mountains covered with luxuriant dense bushes of rhododendron, rose, berberry and juniper. Red-legged crows, hawks, wild pigeons, and finches, abounded. There was but little snow on the mountains around, which are bare and craggy above, but sloping below. Bleak and forbidding as the situation of any Himalayan village at 10,000 feet elevation must be, that of Wallanchoon is rendered the more so from the


 

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comparatively few trees; for though the silver fir and juniper are both abundant higher up the valley, they have been felled here for building materials, fuel, and export to Tibet. From the naked limbs and tall gaunt black trunks of those that remain, stringy masses of bleached lichen (Usnea) many feet long, stream in the wind. Both men and women seemed fond of decorating their hair with wreaths of this lichen, which they dye yellow with leaves of Symplocos.

Wallanchoon village

 

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The village is very large, and occupies a flat on the east bank of the river, covered with huge boulders: the ascent to it is extremely steep, probably over an ancient moraine, though I did not recognise it as such at the time. Cresting this, the valley at once opens, and I was almost startled with the sudden change from a gloomy gorge to a broad flat and a populous village of large and good painted wooden houses, ornamented with hundreds of long poles and vertical flags, looking like the fleet of some foreign port; while a swarm of good-natured, intolerably dirty Tibetans, were kotowing to me as I advanced.

The houses crept up the base of the mountain, on the flank of which was a very large, long convent; two-storied, and painted scarlet, with a low black roof, and backed by a grove of dark junipers; while the hill-sides around were thickly studded with bushes of deep green rhododendron, scarlet berberry, and withered yellow rose. The village contained about one hundred houses, irregularly crowded together, from twenty to forty feet high, and forty to eighty feet long; each accommodating several families. All were built of upright strong pine-planks, the interstices of which were filled with yak-dung; and they sometimes rest on a low foundation wall: the door was generally at the gable end; it opened with a latch and string; and turned on a wooden pivot; the only window was a slit closed by a shutter; and the roofs were very low-pitched, covered with shingles kept down by stones. The paths were narrow and filthy; and the only public buildings besides the convents were Manis and Mendongs; of these the former are square-roofed temples, containing rows of praying-cylinders placed close together, from four to six feet high, and gaudily painted; some are turned by hand, and others by water: the latter are walls ornamented with slabs of clay and mica slate,


 

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with “Om Mani Padmi om” well carved on them in two characters, and repeated ad infinitum.

A Tibetan household is very slovenly; the family live higgledy-piggledy in two or more apartments, the largest of which has an open fire on the earth, or on a stone if the floor be of wood. The pots and tea-pot are earthen and copper; and these, with the bamboo churn for the brick tea, some wooden and metal spoons, bowls, and platters, comprise all the kitchen utensils.

Every one carries in the breast of his robe a little wooden cup for daily use; neatly turned from the knotted roots of maple (see p. 133). The Tibetan chiefly consumes barley, wheat, or buckwheat meal—the latter is confined to the poorer classes—with milk, butter, curd, and parched wheat; fowls, eggs, pork, and yak flesh when he can afford it, and radishes, a few potatos, legumes, and turnips in their short season. His drink is a sort of soup made from brick tea, of which a handful of leaves is churned up with salt, butter, and soda, then boiled and transferred to the tea-pot, whence it is poured scalding hot into each cup, which the good woman of the house keeps incessantly replenishing, and urging you to drain. Sometimes, but more rarely, the Tibetans make a drink by pouring boiling water over malt, as the Lepchas do over millet. A pipe of yellow mild Chinese tobacco generally follows the meal; more often, however, their tobacco is brought from the plains of India, when it is of a very inferior description. The pipe carried in the girdle, is of brass or iron, often with an agate, amber, or bamboo mouth-piece.

Many herds of fine yaks were grazing about Wallanchoon: there were a few ponies, sheep, goats, fowls, and pigs, but very little cultivation except turnips, radishes, and potatos. The yak is a very tame, domestic animal, often handsome,


 

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and a true bison in appearance; it is invaluable to these mountaineers from its strength and hardiness, accomplishing, at a slow pace, twenty miles a day, bearing either two bags of salt or rice, or four to six planks of pinewood slung in pairs along either flank. Their ears are generally pierced, and ornamented with a tuft of scarlet worsted; they have large and beautiful eyes, spreading horns, long silky black hair, and grand bushy tails: black is their prevailing colour, but red, dun, parti-coloured, and white are common. In winter, the flocks graze below 8000 feet, on account of the great quantity of snow above that height; in summer they find pasturage as high as 17,000 feet, consisting of grass and small tufted Carices, on which they browse with avidity.

The zobo, or cross between the yak and hill cow (much resembling the English cow), is but rarely seen in these mountains, though common in the North West Himalaya. The yak is used as a beast of burden; and much of the wealth of the people consists in its rich milk and curd, eaten either fresh or dried, or powdered into a kind of meal. The hair is spun into ropes, and woven into a covering for their tents, which is quite pervious to wind and rain;* from the same material are made the gauze shades for the eyes used in crossing snowy passes. The bushy tail forms the well-known “chowry” or fly-flapper of the plains of India; the bones and dung serve for fuel. The female drops one calf in April; and the young yaks are very full of gambols, tearing up and down the steep grassy and rocky slopes: their flesh is delicious, much richer and more juicy than common veal; that of the old yak is sliced and dried in the sun, forming jerked meat, which is eaten raw, the scanty proportion of fat preventing

* The latter is, however, of little consequence in the dry climate of Tibet.


 

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its becoming very rancid, so that I found it palatable food: it is called schat-tcheu (dried meat). I never observed the yak to be annoyed by any insects; indeed at the elevation it inhabits, there are no large diptera, bots, or gadflies to infest it. It loves steep places, delighting to scramble among rocks, and to sun its black hide perched on the glacial boulders which strew the Wallanchoon flat, and on which these beasts always sleep. Their average value is from two to three pounds, but the price varies with the season. In autumn, when her calf is killed for food, the mother will yield no milk, unless the herdsman gives it the calf's foot to lick, or lays a stuffed skin before it, to fondle, which it does with eagerness, expressing its satisfaction by short grunts, exactly like those of a pig, a sound which replaces the low uttered by ordinary cattle. The yak, though indifferent to ice and snow and to changes of temperature, cannot endure hunger so long as the sheep, nor pick its way so well upon stony ground. Neither can it bear damp heat, for which reason it will not live in summer below 7000 feet, where liver disease carries it off after a very few years.* Lastly, the yak is ridden, especially by the fat Lamas, who find its shaggy coat warm, and its paces easy; under these circumstances it is always led. The wild yak or bison (D'hong) of central Asia, the superb progenitor of this animal, is the largest native animal of Tibet,

* Nevertheless, the yak seems to have survived the voyage to England. I find in Turner's “Tibet” (p. 189), that a bull sent by that traveller to Mr. Hastings, reached England alive, and after suffering from languor, so far recovered its health and vigour as to become the father of many calves. Turner does not state by what mother these calves were born, an important omission, as he adds that all these died but one cow, which bore a calf by an Indian bull. A painting of the yak (copied into Turner's book) by Stubbs, the animal painter, may be seen in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, London. The artist is probably a little indebted to description for the appearance of its hair in a native state, for it is represented much too even in length, and reaching to too uniform a depth from the flanks.


 

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in various parts of which country it is found; and the Tibetans say, in reference to its size, that the liver is a load for a tame yak. The Sikkim Dewan gave Dr. Campbell and myself an animated account of the chase of this animal, which is hunted by large dogs, and shot with a blunderbuss: it is untameable and horridly fierce, falling upon you with horns and chest, and if he rasps you with his tongue, it is so rough as to scrape the flesh from the bones. The horn is used as a drinking-cup in marriage feasts, and on other grand occasions. My readers are probably familiar with Messrs. Huc and Gabet's account of a herd of these animals being frozen fast in the head-waters of the Yangtsekiang river. There is a noble specimen in the British Museum not yet set up, and another is preparing for exhibition in the Crystal Palace at Sydenham.

The inhabitants of these frontier districts belong to two very different tribes, but all are alike called Bhoteeas (from Bhote, the proper name of Tibet), and have for many centuries been located in what is—in climate and natural features—a neutral ground between dry Tibet Proper, and the wet Himalayan gorges. They inhabit a climate too cold for either the Lepcha or Nepalese, migrating between 6000 and 15,000 feet with the seasons, always accompanied by their herds. In all respects of appearance, religion, manners, customs, and language, they are Tibetans and Lama Booddhists, but they pay tax to the Nepal and Sikkim Rajahs, to whom they render immense service by keeping up and facilitating the trade in salt, wool, musk, etc., which could hardly be conducted without their co-operation. They levy a small tax on all imports, and trade a little on their own account, but are generally poor and very indolent. In their alpine summer quarters they grow scanty crops of wheat, barley, turnips, and radishes; and


 

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at their winter quarters, as at Loongtoong, the better classes cultivate fine crops of buck-wheat, millet, spinach, etc.; though seldom enough for their support, as in spring they are obliged to buy rice from the inhabitants of the lower regions. Equally dependent on Nepal and Tibet, they very naturally hold themselves independent of both; and I found that my roving commission from the Nepal Rajah was not respected, and the guard of Ghorkas held very cheap.

On my arrival at Wallanchoon, I was conducted to two tents, each about eight feet long, of yak's hair, striped blue and white, which had been pitched close to the village for my accommodation. Though the best that could be provided, and larger than my own, they were wretched in the extreme, being of so loose a texture that the wind blew through them: each was formed of two cloths with a long slit between them, that ran across the top, giving egress to the smoke, and ingress to the weather: they were supported on two short poles, kept to the ground by large stones, and fastened by yak's hair ropes. A fire was smoking vigorously in the centre of one, and some planks were laid at the end for my bed. A crowd of people soon came to stare and loll out their tongues at me, my party, and travelling equipage; though very civil, and only offensive in smell, they were troublesome, from their eager curiosity to see and handle everything; so that I had to place a circle of stones round the tents, whilst a soldier stood by, on the alert to keep them off. A more idle people are not to be found, except with regard to spinning, which is their constant occupation, every man and woman carrying a bundle of wool in the breast of their garments, which is spun by hand with a spindle, and wound off on two cross-pieces at its lower end. Spinning, smoking, and tea-drinking are their chief pursuits; and the women take


 

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all the active duties of the dairy and house. They live very happily together, fighting being almost unknown.

Soon after my arrival I was waited on by the Guobah (or head-man), a tall, good-looking person, dressed in a purple woollen robe, with good pearl and coral ear and finger-rings, and a broad ivory ring over the left thumb,* as a guard when using the bow; he wore a neat thick white felt cap, with the border turned up, and a silk tassel on the top; this he removed with both hands and held before him, bowing three times on entering. He was followed by a crowd, some of whom were his own people, and brought a present of a kid, fowls, rice, and eggs, and some spikenard roots (Nardostachys Jatamansi, a species of valerian smelling strongly of patchouli), which is a very favourite perfume. After paying some compliments, he showed me round the village. During my walk, I found that I had a good many objections to overrule before I could proceed to the Wallanchoon pass, nearly two days' journey to the northward. In the first place, the Guobah disputed the Nepal rajah's authority to pass me through his dominions; and besides the natural jealousy of these people when intruded upon, they have very good reasons for concealing the amount of revenue they raise from their position, and for keeping up the delusion that they alone can endure the excessive climate of these regions, or undergo the hardships and toil of the salt trade. My passport said nothing about the passes; my people, and especially the Ghorkas, detested the keen, cold, and cutting wind; at Mywa Guola, I had been persuaded by the Havildar to put off providing snow-boots and blankets, on the assurance that I should easily get them at Walloong, which I now

* A broad ring of this material, agate, or chalcedony, is a mark of rank here, as amongst the Man-choos, and throughout Central Asia.


 

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found all but impossible, owing to there being no bazaar. My provisions were running short, and for the same reason I had no present hope of replenishing them. All my party had, I found, reckoned with certainty that I should have had enough of this elevation and weather by the time I reached Walloong. Some of them fell sick; the Guobah swore that the passes were full of snow, and had been impracticable since October; and the Ghorka Havildar respectfully deposed that he had no orders relative to the pass. Prompt measures were requisite, so I told all my people that I should stop the next day at Walloong, and proceed on the following on a three days' journey to the pass, with or without the Guobah's permission. To the Ghorka soldiers I said that the present they would receive, and the character they would take to their commandant, depended on their carrying out this point, which had been fully explained before starting. My servants I told that their pay and reward also depended on their implicit obedience. I took the Guobah aside and showed him troops of yaks (tethered by halters and toggles to a long rope stretched between two rocks), which had that morning arrived laden with salt from the north; I told him it was vain to try and deceive me; that my passport was ample, and that I should expect a guide, provisions, and snow-boots the next day; and that every impediment and every facility should be reported to the rajah.

During my two days' stay at Walloong, the weather was bitterly cold: as heretofore, the nights and mornings were cloudless, but by noon the whole sky became murky, the highest temperature (50°) occurring at 10 a.m. At this season the prospect from this elevation (10,385 feet), was dreary in the extreme; and the quantity of snow on the mountains, which was continually increasing, held out a


 

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dismal promise for my chance of exploring lofty uninhabited regions. All annual and deciduous vegetation had long past, and the lofty Himalayas are very poor in mosses and lichens, as compared with the European Alps, and arctic regions in general. The temperature fluctuated from 22° at sunrise, to 50° at 10 a.m.; the mean being 35°;* one night it fell to 64°. Throughout the day, a south wind blew strong and cold up the valley, and at sunset was replaced by a keen north blast, searching every corner, and piercing through tent and blankets. Though the sun's rays were hot for an hour or two in the morning, its genial influence was never felt in the wind. The air was never very dry, the wet-bulb thermometer standing during the day 3·75° below the dry, thus giving a mean dew-point of 30·25°. A thermometer sunk two feet stood at 44°, fully 9° above the mean temperature of the air; one exposed to the clear sky, stood, during the day, several degrees below the air in shade, and, at night, from 9° to 14·75° lower. The black-bulb thermometer, in the sun, rose to 65·75° above the air, indicating upwards of 90° difference at nearly the warmest part of the day, between contiguous shaded and sunny exposures. The sky, when cloudless, was generally a cold blue or steel-grey colour, but at night the stars were large, and twinkled gloriously. The black-glass photometer indicated 10·521 inches† as the maximum intensity of sunlight; the temperature of the river close by fell to 32° during the night, and rose to 37° in the day. In my tent, the temperature

* This gives 1° Fahr. for every 309 feet of elevation, using contemporaneous observations at Calcutta, and correcting for latitude, etc.
† On three mornings the maxima occurred at between 9 and 10 a.m. They were, Nov. 24th, 10·509, Nov. 25th, 10·521. On the 25th, at Tuquoroma, I recorded 10·510. The maximum effect observed at Dorjiling (7,340 feet) was 10·328, and on the plains of India 10·350. The maximum I ever recorded was in Yangma valley (15,186 feet), 10·572 at 1 p.m.


 

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fluctuated with the state of the fire, from 26° at night to 58° when the sun beat on it; but the only choice was between cold and suffocating smoke.

After a good many conferences with the Guobah, some bullying, douce violence, persuasions, and the prescribing of pills, prayers, and charms in the shape of warm water, for the sick of the village, whereby I gained some favour, I was, on the 25th Nov., grudgingly prepared for the trip to Wallanchoon, with a guide, and some snow-boots for those of my party whom I took with me.

The path lay north-west up the valley, which became thickly wooded with silver-fir and juniper; we gradually ascended, crossing many streams from lateral gulleys, and huge masses of boulders. Evergreen rhododendrons soon replaced the firs, growing in inconceivable profusion, especially on the slopes facing the south: east, and with no other shrubs or tree-vegetation, but scattered bushes of rose, Spiræa, dwarf juniper, stunted birch, willow, honey-suckle, berberry, and a mountain-ash (Pyrus). What surprised me more than the prevalence of rhododendron bushes, was the number of species of this genus, easily recognised by the shape of their capsules, the form and woolly covering of the leaves; none were in flower, but I reaped a rich harvest of seed. At 12,000 feet the valley was wild, open, and broad, with sloping mountains clothed for 1000 feet with dark-green rhododendron bushes; the river ran rapidly, and was broken into falls here and there. Huge angular and detached masses of rock were scattered about, and to the right and left snowy peaks towered over the surrounding mountains, while amongst the latter narrow gulleys led up to blue patches of glacial ice, with trickling streams and shoots of stones. Dwarf rhododendrons with strongly-scented leaves (R. anthopogon and setosum), and


 

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abundance of a little Andromeda, exactly like ling, with woody stems and tufted branches, gave a heathery appearance to the hill-sides. The prevalence of lichens, common to this country and to Scotland (especially L. geographicus), which coloured the rocks, added an additional feature to the resemblance to Scotch Highland scenery. Along the narrow path I found the two commonest of all British weeds, a grass (Poa annua), and the shepherd's purse! They had evidently been imported by man and yaks, and as they do not occur in India, I could not but regard these little wanderers from the north with the deepest interest.

Such incidents as these give rise to trains of reflection in the mind of the naturalist traveller; and the farther he may be from home and friends, the more wild and desolate the country he is exploring, the greater the difficulties and dangers under which he encounters these subjects of his earliest studies in science; so much keener is the delight with which he recognises them, and the more lasting is the impression which they leave. At this moment these common weeds more vividly recall to me that wild scene than does all my journal, and remind me how I went on my way, taxing my memory for all it ever knew of the geographical distribution of the shepherd's purse, and musing on the probability of the plant having found its way thither over all Central Asia, and the ages that may have been occupied in its march.

On reaching 13,000 feet, the ground was everywhere hard and frozen, and I experienced the first symptoms of lassitude, headache, and giddiness; which however, were but slight, and only came on with severe exertion.

We encountered a group of Tibetans, encamped to leeward of an immense boulder of gneiss, against which they had raised a shelter with their salt-bags, removed from their


 

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herd of yaks, which were grazing close by. They looked miserably cold and haggard, and their little upturned eyes, much inflamed and bloodshot, testified to the hardships they had endured in their march from the salt regions: they were crouched round a small fire of juniper wood, smoking iron pipes with agate mouthpieces. A resting-house was in sight across the stream—a loose stone hut, to which we repaired. I wondered why these Tibetans had not taken possession of it, not being aware of the value they attach to a rock, on account of the great warmth which it imbibes from the sun's rays during the day, and retains at night. This invaluable property of otherwise inhospitable gneiss and granite I had afterwards many opportunities of proving; and when driven for a night's shelter to such as rude nature might afford on the bleak mountain, I have had my blankets laid beneath “the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.”

The name of Dhamersala is applied, in the mountains as in the plains of India, to a house provided for the accommodation of travellers, whether it be one of the beautiful caravanserais built to gratify the piety, ostentation, or benevolence of a rajah, or such a miserable shieling of rough stone and plank as that of Tuquoroma, in which we took up our quarters, at 13,000 feet elevation. A cheerful fire soon blazed on the earthen floor, filling the room with the pungent odour of juniper, which made our eyes smart and water. The Ghorkas withdrew to one corner, and my Lepchas to a second, while one end was screened off for my couch; unluckily, the wall faced the north-east, and in that direction there was a gulley in the snowy mountains, down which the wind swept with violence, penetrating to my bed. I had calculated upon a good night's rest here, which I much needed, having been worried and unwell at Wallanchoon, owing to the Guobah's obstinacy. I had not


 

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then learnt how to treat such conduct, and just before retiring to rest had further been informed by the Havildar that the Guobah declared we should find no food on our return. To remain in these mountains without a supply was impossible, and the delay, of sending to Mywa Guola would not have answered; so I long lay awake, occupied in arranging measures. The night was clear and very cold; the thermometer falling to 19° at 9 p.m., and to 12° in the night, and that by my bedside to 20°.

On the following morning (Nov. 26th) I started with a small party to visit the pass, continuing up the broad, grassy valley; much snow lay on the ground at 13,500 feet, which had fallen the previous month; and several glaciers were seen in lateral ravines at about the same elevation. After a couple of miles, we left the broad valley, which continued north-west, and struck northward up a narrow, stony, and steep gorge, crossing an immense ancient moraine at its mouth. This path, which we followed for seven or eight miles, led up to the pass, winding considerably, and keeping along the south-east exposures, which, being the most sunny, are the freest from snow. The morning was splendid, the atmosphere over the dry rocks and earth, at 14,000 feet, vibrating from the power of the sun's rays, whilst vast masses of blue glacier and fields of snow choked every galley, and were spread over all shady places. Although, owing to the steepness and narrowness of the gorge, no view was obtained, the scenery was wild and very grand. Just below where perpetual snow descends to the path, an ugly carved head of a demon, with blood-stained cheeks and goggle-eyes, was placed in a niche of rock, and protected by a glass.

At 15,000 feet, the snow closed in on the path from all sides, whether perpetual, glacial, or only the October fall,


 

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I could not tell; the guide declared it to be perpetual henceforward, though now deepened by the very heavy October fall; the path was cut some three feet through it. Enormous boulders of gneiss cumbered the bottom of the gorge, which gradually widened as we approached its summit; and rugged masses of black and red gneiss and mica schist pierced the snow, and stood out in dismal relief. For four miles continuously we proceeded over snow; which was much honey-combed on the surface, and treacherous from the icy streams it covered, into which we every now and then stumbled; there was scarcely a trace of vegetation, and the cold was excessive, except in the sun.

Towards the summit of the pass the snow lay very deep, and we followed the course of a small stream which cut through it, the walls of snow being breast-high on each side; the path was still frequented by yaks, of which we overtook a small party going to Tibet, laden with planks. All the party appeared alike overcome by lassitude, shortness and difficulty of breathing, a sense of weight on the stomach, giddiness and headache, with tightness across the temples.

Just below the summit was a complete bay of snow, girdled with two sharp peaks of red baked schists and gneiss, strangely contorted, and thrown up at all angles with no prevalent dip or strike, and permeated with veins of granite. The top itself, or boundary between Nepal and Tibet, is a low saddle between two rugged ridges of rock, with a cairn built on it, adorned with bits of stick and rag covered with Tibetan inscriptions. The view into Tibet was not at all distant, and was entirely of snowy mountains, piled ridge over ridge; three of these spurs must, it is said, be crossed before any descent can be made to the Chomachoo river (as the Arun is called in Tibet), on which is the frontier fort of the Tibetans, and


 

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which is reached in two or three days. There is no plain or level ground of any kind before reaching that river, of which the valley is said to be wide and flat.

Starting at 10 a.m., we did not reach the top till 3.30 p.m.; we had halted nowhere, but the last few miles had been most laborious, and the three of us who gained the summit were utterly knocked up. Fortunately I carried my own barometer; it indicated 16·206 inches, giving by comparative observations with Calcutta 16,764 feet, and with Dorjiling, 16,748 feet, as the height of the pass. The thermometer stood at 18°, and the sun being now hidden behind rocks, the south-east wind was bitterly cold. Hitherto the sun had appeared as a clearly defined sparkling globe, against a dark-blue sky; but the depth of the azure blue was not so striking as I had been led to suppose, by the accounts of previous travellers, in very lofty regions. The plants gathered near the top of the pass were species of Compositæ, grass, and Arenaria; the most curious was Saussurea gossypina, which forms great clubs of the softest white wool, six inches to a foot high, its flowers and leaves seeming uniformly clothed with the warmest fur that nature can devise. Generally speaking, the alpine plants of the Himalaya are quite unprovided with any special protection of this kind; it is the prevalence and conspicuous nature of the exceptions that mislead, and induce the careless observer to generalise hastily from solitary instances; for the prevailing alpine genera of the Himalaya, Arenarias, primroses, saxifrages, fumitories, Ranunculi, gentians, grasses, sedges, etc., have almost uniformly naked foliage.

We descended to the foot of the pass in about two hours, darkness overtaking us by the way; the twilight, however, being prolonged by the glare of the snow. Fearing the


 

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distance to Tuquoroma might be too great to permit of our returning thither the same night; I had had a few things brought hither during the day, and finding they had arrived, we encamped under the shelter of some enormous boulders (at 13,500 feet), part of an ancient moraine, which extended some distance along the bed of the narrow valley. Except an excruciating headache, I felt no ill effects from my ascent; and after a supper of tea and biscuit, I slept soundly.

On the following morning the temperature was 28° at 6.30 a.m., and rose to 30° when the sun appeared over the mountains at 8.15, at which time the black bulb thermometer suddenly mounted to 112°, upwards of 80° above the temperature of the air. The sky was brilliantly clear, with a very dry, cold, north wind blowing down the snowy valley of the pass.


 
Demon's head

Next Chapter X